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Real life, real heros - Mary Jane Holt

"Just call me Greg," he said. And so, I will.

Greg is an amazing man, an inspiration. I cannot recall the last time another human being has inspired me like this.

I just "officially" met Greg recently on the phone. During our conversation, I begged to know more about him. I asked about his parents, his background, his roots, his life, and how he came to be the man he is today.

Greg told me that his parents, who have been married 42 years, are where it all started. Then, there were coaches and teachers in school who influenced him. "But you never stop growing," he said, "it is an ongoing process."

I listened long as Greg talked ... I listened hard, and with my heart. I shed a tear. You see, Greg is my hero, today. But more than that, he is a light, a beacon, an encourager to thousands of others.

It may have started with his parents, but it really picked up speed the day that the West Point football coach came to his high school and singled him out for stardom. He then played ball for the Army while he also got a degree in history.

This is just a little of the background that prepared him for his service in Iraq. A career soldier, Greg now is an aspiring and well respected officer in the U.S. Army.

He is also a Christian. He said he believes in God and in the consequences of sin. Thus, the second thought he had on May 7, 2007, when the IED hit his convoy, was "What have I done? How have I sinned to bring this on myself?"

Greg said he knows Christ died for his sins. So he gave Him the sins he pondered on. Then he gave Him the guilt, too - the guilt over those sins that tried to wear him down during those early days of pain when questions like, "Why me?" were unavoidable.

It was, perhaps, the first thought he had, however, after the IED hit, that allowed Greg to deal so successfully and positively with everything that has happened since.

He said his first thought was to forgive. He loves the Iraqi people. "They are wonderful!" he exclaimed to me. So he resolved immediately to hold no malice toward the bomber who deprived him of both legs. In those very first moments and hours, he resolved to "forgive and move forward."

Yet, moving forward was not without pain and grief. Following the bombing, he found himself repeatedly looking in the mirror, and asking, "Is this me?"

Clearly, he grieved over the loss of his legs, but never was there a loss of spirit and faith and courage and dedication to God, family and country.

It was this amazing resilience and awe inspiring character that prompted one of the coaches for the New York Giants to ask him to speak to the team prior to their Sept. 23 game. After hearing Greg, a performance streak began which has culminated in their competing against the Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl.

Thus, Greg became the new "inspirational coach" for the New York Giants. He was be at the Super Bowl, on the sidelines -- and certainly in the hearts of the players on that field.

Those players now know that they play to entertain hero-soldiers, who watch from the other side of the world, while their football heroes take their minds off the game of war for a few hours each week.

During Greg's early months of healing, he knew that he wanted no part of being defined as "an amputee." He compared his feelings about that to the same feelings that prompted him to never wear his West Point ring. "I want people to meet me as me. I am comfortable with or without my legs. I have been in the Army 19 years. I am a soldier. I like being a soldier. I want to be of value to other soldiers."

Just know that on Sunday, Feb. 3, when the Giants defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, with the Second Battalion and 32nd Field Artillery, the man, the soldier, the hero ... was there, pulling for heroes all over the world who perform well for God and country.

Mary Jane Holt writes an occasional column for the weekend edition of the Henry Daily Herald and Clayton News Daily. You can visit her at www.maryjaneholt.com.